All writers work a little differently. In our case, we’ve developed a certain routine in how we typically write a fundraising package.
After drafting our copy and completing multiple rounds of editing over a period of days—working both separately and together—we finally get to Deadline Day. At that point, we launch into our final run-through mode.
By sharing this routine with you—as idiosyncratic as it may be—we hope you’ll find a nugget or two that might help you on your next Deadline Day.
Start at the right time
More often than not, we begin the final run-through process first thing in the morning, when we’re both at our sharpest.
But whether you’re a morning, afternoon, or nighttime type, the idea is to choose your most creative working time . . . and use that as your starting point. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself struggling to make decisions that would be a breeze at your peak performance time.
Edit hard copy
First things first: We print two copies of our draft and each edit hard copy right on the page. Yep. Real pen, real paper. Remember, eventually your donor or prospect will be opening your mailing and reading pieces of paper. So we want to simulate that in our editing.
Compare our edits
Once we both complete our hard copy changes, we then go through them together at the computer: line by line, component by component.
Since it’s now Deadline Day, it’s important to address any questions or concerns that may have been lingering up to this point.
Read copy aloud
Now that we’ve completed going over our hard copy changes, we’ll print up one clean version of this latest draft. One of us will read this copy aloud—from the printed page—while the other follows along on the computer, making changes accordingly.
More than anything, it’s important to hear how the copy sounds. Do we stumble over certain words or phrases? Does it sound awkward? Is a sentence missing a beat or seem flat at the end?
As we’ve said time and again in this newsletter, if you’re not reading your copy aloud—even if it’s to yourself—you’re missing out. And your copy will surely suffer.
Check that grammar
We then run our draft through two different grammar-checking programs. One is an old DOS-based program that we still prefer over anything else we’ve ever seen. The other is the grammar-checker in Word, which manages to catch nuances not picked up in the other program.
We tend to ignore a laundry list of traditional grammatical “errors”—ones that are the preferred way to go in direct mail. That said, there are still occasions when the software identifies something we really need to fix.
In addition, as we’ve written about before, we use these programs to compute readability statistics. If, for instance, the grade level comes in too high for our target audience, we’ll go back to editing our copy to lower it. (This is done by eliminating three-syllable words, while reducing the number of complex clauses and shortening up the sentences.) We’ll then go back to check the grade level once again to see if we succeeded.
The “two roads diverge” part
This is where we differ from other writers, especially those named Mal. Because usually it’s at this stage when we write the reply slip call to action and underline the letter—as opposed to doing both before any other copy is even written.
In effect, we prefer to “crib” the call to action from our finalized copy, which we’ve now fine-tuned a gazillion times. As a result, it should easily flow from the letter to the reply. If it doesn’t, then we know we need to go back to the copy and make it right. (And yes, we also read our reply copy aloud!)
The same perspective applies to underlining. We want to underline final copy. So we can see how it looks on each completed page—distributed evenly from top to bottom.
At the same time, we’re scanning our pages to make sure the paragraph lengths are varied. For instance, if we spot too many two-line paragraphs in a row, we’ll either combine some or break them up even further.
On to copy platforms
In certain cases, we’re asked to version copy for segmented audiences (with changes usually restricted to the first page). We’ll then take our completed page one, use that as our baseline, and make the required changes. Of course, we may catch something once again that needs to be changed for all versions. But waiting until the very end, we minimize that possibility and any subsequent changes.
So that’s how we approach each of our Deadline Days. Sure, it’s time consuming. But it’s well worth the effort!